Congress.gov July 2021 Release: the Addition of 30,000 Bills and Resolutions from 1799-1873

We thank Margaret Wood of the Law Library blog, In Custodia Legis, for this post on upcoming changes to the Congress.gov and Century of Lawmaking websites.

I enjoy commemorating anniversary dates for all sorts of events both on the wider historic stage and with respect to the Library. Yesterday, July 5, 2021, was the fifth anniversary of the retirement of our former legislative website THOMAS. This might sound like a sad anniversary, but THOMAS was replaced by Congress.gov into which we have been able to load more data and add more functionality. This post focuses on the addition of a large amount of data from an even older website, the Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. This release also includes an enhancement to the Bound Congressional Record collection.

Since it debuted in 1998, the Century of Lawmaking has been one of our premier sources of historic legal documents on the Library’s website. But this website is now over 24 years old, the format is dated, and the search engine is limited. For a number of months, the Library has been planning the transfer of material from the Century of Lawmaking website to a more modern display. As of today, we have loaded the text of over 30,000 bills and resolutions from the Century of Lawmaking to Congress.gov. These bills range in date from the 6th Congress (1799-1800) to the 42nd Congress (1871-1873). House bills begin with the 6th Congress while bills which originated in the Senate are available starting in 1819 (the 16th Congress). We are missing bills for the 12th Congress. However, the laws that were passed in the 12th Congress (1811-1813) are available in the United States Statutes at Large.

This collection provides bill text, bill titles, and some actions information. Other data such as sponsors, cosponsors, summaries, amendments, committees, and related bill information are not included at this time, though work is underway to add additional metadata to this collection.

These bills and resolutions are a treasure trove of information about early congressional legislation. For example, the first bill from the 8th Congress (1803-1805) shows the Senate passing “An act to enable the President of the United States to take possession of the territories ceded by France to the United States, by the treaty concluded at Paris on the thirtieth of April last, and for the temporary government thereof.” This act relates to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

Snapshot of bill text for An act to enable the President of the United States to take possession of the territories ceded by France to the United States, by the treaty concluded at Paris on the thirtieth of April last, and for the temporary government thereof.

Text of the first bill from the 8th Congress “An act to enable the President of the United States to take possession of the territories ceded by France to the United States, by the treaty concluded at Paris on the thirtieth of April last, and for the temporary government thereof.”

We also found two bills from the 29th (H.R. 627) and 30th (S.278) Congresses that proposed the purchase and publication of Thomas Jefferson’s papers and manuscripts. The Library of Congress had already purchased Jefferson’s personal library in 1815, after the burning of the Capitol in 1814. But, a little more than 20 years after his death, the Senate proposed granting $25,000 for the purchase of his papers from his grandson and executor, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. The papers were to be deposited with the Department of State while the Joint Committee on the Library was to be given $6,000 to oversee the publication of such papers as seemed proper.

Snapshot of S.278 from the 30th Congress of a Bill Authorizing the purchase and publication of the papers and manuscripts of the late Thomas Jefferson

S.278, a bill proposing the authorization of the purchase and publication of the papers and manuscripts of the late Thomas Jefferson.

It is important when working with these bills to understand that the House did not begin to number bills sequentially until the 15th Congress in 1817, while the Senate did not sequentially number bills until the 30th Congress (1847). We have added information about this new collection to our About Legislation of the U.S. Congress page on Congress.gov as well as added information on our Coverage page in footnotes 1 and 3.

As well as the bills, the Century of Lawmaking website includes the Journals of the Continental Congress with their debates, laws, and communications which include items as varied as an October 26, 1774 petition to King George III and 1780 commission form to privateers; the debates of Congress starting with the Annals of Congress in 1789 through to the Congressional Record, which began publication in 1873; the House and Senate Journals; and records from the Constitutional Convention and the state constitutional ratification debates. These materials will also be variously migrated to Congress.gov and the Library’s Digital Collections.

We will begin working on the migration of the Annals of Congress into Congress.gov in 2022. The Journals of the Continental Congress, Farrand’s Records, and Elliott’s Debates will become part of the Library’s Digital Collections later this year. The U.S. Congressional Serial Set is being digitized as part of a joint project with the Government Publishing Office and those House and Senate congressional reports and documents will be added to the Library’s website as another digital collection within the next three years.

Enhancement – Congressional Record – Bound Edition

The Congressional Record Bound edition is now available for the 71st and 72nd Congresses (1929-1932).

We hope you enjoy exploring this collection and other material on Congress.gov. As always, if you have questions, please contact us at Ask a Librarian.

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